Saturday, January 20, 2018

Why Adam Smith and Malthus?

We briefly touched on this in class, but I've still been kind of uncertain about why Dickens specifically alluded to Adam Smith and Malthus in our excerpt of Hard Times. Because the Gradgrinds named their children after these two major influencers, it's clear that they support what these men represent. Adam Smith embodies the "self-made man" because he hypothesized that the economy was driven by hardworking capitalists who were seeking self-gain. This makes sense because both Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby built their identity and wealth through their own toil. However, Adam Smith, as Mrs. Quinet brought up, also represents the stagnancy of the lower class as the majority of capitalist ventures can only be sustained by members of the middle and upper class who are financially stable. Thus, this "rags to riches" idea present in Hard Times through Gradgrind and Bounderby is contradicted by Adam Smith's theories.

I'm more confused about Malthus, though. I suppose that Malthus represents rationality and the absence of overly optimistic, almost fairytale-like thinking. His idea -- restricting offspring to maintain a high standard of living for all -- is certainly rational, regardless of its infeasibility and ethical conflicts. This way of thinking is idealized in Hard Times, and children are taught to abandon imagination and creativity for a more "inside the box" lifestyle. In that sense, I can understand why Malthus was referenced, but I feel like this is kind of a stretch. Moreover, Mr. and Mrs. Gradgrind had at least 4 children, which blatantly contradicts Malthus' theories. Basically, I'm still confused.

What do you guys think? Why Adam Smith and Malthus?

Comics and Jokes from Underground

“Of course my jokes are in poor taste, inappropriate, and confused; they reveal my lack of security. But that is because I have no respect for myself.” -Dostoyevsky (Notes from Underground) - a quote and also an accurate description of the following...
(Dostoyevsky, Mill, Dickens, and Bentham)

John Stuart Mill: It was a utilitarian function. She had tasks that were better performed on the other side.
“What a man wants is simply INDEPENDENT choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead. And choice, of course, the devil only knows what choice”. (Chapter VII)



Malthusianism and Neo-Malthusianism

On Tuesday, I brought up the reference of Malthus in Dickens' Hard Times, and I wanted to give some more information on his work and the consequent theories that were developed. To recap: Malthus was a British demographer who wrote that increases in food supply would never be able to match the exponential growth of the human population. Furthermore, he observed that food surpluses lead to a growth in the population until the lower class faces poverty. He explained that humans tend to simply produce more in times of surplus rather than maintain the population and have a higher standard of life. This concept is known as Malthusianism and has led to many discussions and theories regarding demography -- most notably Neo-Malthusianism. The phrase was first used in 1877 by Dr. Samuel Van Houten and described the need for population control to maintain the state of society at a certain level. The resultant movement advocates for birth control in the form of abstinence and contraception and emphasizes the danger of overpopulation. The topic faces heavy criticism, specifically from religious groups, but has had its influence in modern society as demonstrated by population policies in China and India.

 Image result for malthus
Above: Thomas Robert Malthus

Panopticon as Metaphor

As we talked about in class, the panopticon was a progressively efficient but also dehumanizing prison design created by Jeremy Bentham that was seen by him as a rational, efficient way to organize prisons. Like we discussed in class, the basic design is a hollow circular building with cells at the periphery that open toward the center and a single raised guard tower in the center of the cells. This design allowed one guard to theoretically see any cell at any time, though the prisoners would not know if they were being watched. Bentham saw this rational design as the sort of reform that could help society, but others saw the dehumanization caused by the possibility of constant observation as cruel.

The image of the panopticon and the thought of being constantly observed has made it ripe for metaphor and comparisons. Michel Foucault, the French postmodernist philosopher, used it to illustrate his idea that knowledge and power were closely linked, as the guard who can see the prisoners has knowledge, and thus, power over the prisoners. (I might not be really accurately portraying this argument as I just read an article about it and Foucault can be confusing but I tried). Also, as Mrs. King said, some would compare the recent rise of cameras everywhere and constant observation we are living in a sort of panopticon of modern technology as we are all almost always being observed in public. It's definitely an interesting metaphor that makes you consider the effect of observation (which sort of goes back to the gaze of existentialism) on our behavior.

The Trolley Problem continued

I read Jun's post from yesterday, and it reminded me of a youtube video I watched a while back. A group of people set out to try to test the trolley problem on unsuspecting people. They pre filmed videos of a train approaching a split in the tracks, one which would kill one person and another which would kill five people. The subjects were taught how to switch the tracks for the train, and then left alone in the room with the lever as the train approached the split in the tracks. It would logically make sense to make the train run over the one person instead of five, but overthinking and tehir indecisiveness caused some subjects to let the train run over the five. I won't spoil the whole video in case some of you wish to watch it for yourself. I'd highly reccomend it, as it was a pretty interesting video.

Panopticon References in Modern Literature and Arts

The Panopticon, as discussed in class, is a prison designed by Bentham in which there is a prison with just one guard in a central tower that can view every prison cell. The prisoners will not know if the guard is watching them or not so they will be forced to behave at all times.

Image result for panopticon in doctor who

This is obviously an interesting idea and has influenced many works in the modern day. Here are just a few notable examples of the Panopticon making its way into modern works. In 1981 Marquez's wrote the novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold, in which the Vicario brothers spend three years in a Panopticon. In the popular TV show, Doctor Who, the main character visits a Panopticon throughout multiple episodes. In the video game, Battlefield 4, there is a mission in which you must break out of a Panopticon.

In another video game, Batman: Arkham Origins, Batman must break into a Panopticon.

Image result for batman arkham origins panopticon

One of the most recent examples is in Guardians of the Galaxy. The main characters are imprisoned in a Panopticon for a short time.

Image result for guardians of the galaxy panopticon

A Philosophy Worth Mill(ions)

In 1807, Harriet Hardy married 39-year-old John Taylor at age 18.  She had three children and eventually passed away from her numerous nervous and respiratory problems, suffering from tuberculosis.

Harriet and John Stuart Mill didn’t meet until 1830.  John Mill would visit her home nightly—a big no-no in Victorian times.  John Taylor was pretty tolerant of this “scandalous” relationship; however, in 1848, John Taylor banned John Mill from dedicating one of his essays to Harriet.  Awkwardly, in 1849 John Taylor asked Harriet to come home and care for him during his final years, but Harriet denied him, saying that she had to care for John Mill instead.  She did eventually go back home to her husband, and berated John Mill (who asked Harriet to write to him to provide some “relief” from her situation) with the following: “Good God, sh[oul]d you think it a relief to think of something else some acquaintance or what not while I was dying?” (H. T. Mill 1998, 360).

It’s pretty hard today to discern what exactly Harriet Taylor Mill wrote, because a lot of her writing is wrapped up with John Stuart Mill’s.  J.S. Mill gave her major credit for the following works: The Principles of Political Economy, On Liberty, and “The Enfranchisement of Women.”  In the dedication of On Liberty, Mill wrote: “Like all that I have written for many years, it belongs as much to her as to me.”
    •    "We deny the right of any portion of the species to decide for another portion what is and what is not their 'proper sphere.' The proper sphere for all human beings is the largest and highest which they are able to attain to." -Harriet Taylor Mill